For those of you who follow Clean Cuisine regularly, this blog post on the benefits of glutathione was written by my husband, Andy Larson, M.D. I have been meaning to write an in-depth article about glutathione for YEARS now. Without trying to sound dramatic, knowing about glutathione and knowing how to optimize my levels has been life changing.—Ivy
If you have a neurological condition like my wife’s multiple sclerosis (MS) you may be familiar with glutathione benefits. But chances are, whether you have MS or not, you may very well have never even heard of the “super antioxidant” glutathione. And that’s a shame because as the body’s premier antioxidant, an incredibly powerful detoxifier and more, glutathione has the potential to help millions of people feel better….fast.
Glutathione is commonly discussed on natural healing forums and is well known in the healthy living community. We won’t go into detail discussing the biochemistry or metabolism of glutathione here in this blog post though as it is rather complex. Instead, we will try to explain (in layperson’s terms) how some of us stand to benefit from supplementation with this powerful antioxidant and discuss how optimizing glutathione levels can be achieved following the anti-inflammatory diet we promote and supplementing with natural nutrients. It is critical to maintain optimum levels of glutathione within your body and to avoid depletion if you wish to feel your best, stay healthy and slow the aging process.
For what it’s worth, our suggestions are based on extensive reading of both the medical and the lay literature and our personal experiences with glutathione optimization.
Benefits of Glutathione
A potent “intracellular antioxidant”, glutathione is made naturally within your body and is one of its most powerful antioxidants. It helps to reduce the accumulation of free radicals that contribute to inflammation, disease and premature aging. Glutathione protects the brain against the ravaging effects of free radicals, which are a contributing factor to a number of neurological conditions, including MS. Glutathione and its related enzymes are our body’s most “productive” antioxidants because, in addition to directly scavenging free radicals, they also reactivate other antioxidants. But the benefits of glutathione go beyond its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Glutathione plays a critical role in the body’s natural detoxification process. The “super antioxidant” glutathione neutralizes toxins (including binding and removing heavy metal toxins like lead and mercury from the body) and makes many other processes in your body run more efficiently. As a surgeon who has performed over a thousand gallbladder surgeries, I can appreciate the fact that glutathione helps the liver to detoxify fat before bile is emitted, thus taking the stress off the gallbladder. It also plays a critical role in the body’s immune response, DNA repair and the aging process in general. In fact, if you have low levels of glutathione the aging process will be accelerated.
Glutathione also plays a critical role in optimizing brain function. Relative to its size, your brain requires an enormous amounts of energy and oxygen to carry out its many complex tasks. The consequence of this high dependence on oxygen is the potential for oxidative damage. Many researchers believe that oxidative stress is responsible for a range of brain and mental disorders including common concerns such as memory, low mood and concentration. Your brain has to be able to counter these damaging effects and to do this it depends on a good supply of antioxidants, but primarily it uses glutathione. Thus, optimizing glutathione levels will help your brain function better in every way, including improved focus, concentration and memory. You’ll even notice an improvement in sleep.
And because it has the ability to help control free radicals, glutathione could potentially help prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading within the body. Intravenous glutathione has been shown to trigger cancer cell death. In fact, a growing number of researchers are now crediting the increase in neurological disease and cancer to glutathione deficiency. (1, 2, 3). It is also worth noting the administration of IV glutathione has been found to significantly reduce the neurotoxic effects associated with chemotherapy without diminishing the efficacy of chemotherapy.
Glutathione Can Easily Be Depleted
In our natural state, eating healthful foods, living without stress, and being relatively young and healthy glutathione production in our bodies is an afterthought. We naturally make as much as we need. Unfortunately, many of us eat poorly, live lives of turmoil, and I suppose, fortunately, live to become elderly. For these reasons a basic understanding regarding glutathione can be helpful.
What Depletes Glutatione?
Glutathione stores are depleted by excessive stress, poor diet, older age and certain medications (FYI: we talk about how even over-the-counter painkillers can reduce glutathione in this blog post.)
Furthermore, many chronic diseases including autoimmune conditions such as Ivy’s MS, Parkinson’s and metabolic diseases such as diabetes deplete glutathione stores as the body naturally relies upon its glutathione stores to help fight these conditions. In a vicious circle the depletion of glutathione can make many of these and other conditions worse. Immune function becomes decreased and inflammation increases, bumping up cancer risk and worsening the symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. The symptoms of autoimmune disease can go from manageable to unbearable as glutathione stores deplete. Fortunately, there are ways to fight this battle and win….
Boosting the Benefits of Glutathione
In 2005 we were introduced to intravenous glutathione therapy from Ivy’s then neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter (Dr. Perlmutter is a four-time NY Times bestselling author of nutrition books, many of which discuss glutathione, including our all-time favorite and one of his earlier books, The Better Brain Book.) We had just returned from a book tour from our first book and the stress of waking up at 5 am and traveling to five cities across the country in just a week’s time left Ivy feeling completely drained. She was so exhausted when we returned that she worried she might be getting an MS flare-up. Not knowing what else to do, Ivy went to visit Dr. Perlmutter in his Naples office. The first thing he did was suggest intravenous glutathione therapy.
Intravenous Glutathione Delivers REAL Benefits…REAL FAST
Dr. Perlmutter does not have a before/after glutathione injection video featuring an MS patient, but the YouTube video of one of his Parkinson’s patients shows dramatic improvement thirty minutes after an injection. Although Ivy wasn’t having visible impairment when she had her first injection, she was feeling exhausted and very “foggy headed.” Just like with the Parkinson’s patient, her improvement 30-minutes after the injection was remarkable.
This YouTube video below shows Dr. Perlmutter’s Parkinson’s patient before and 30 minutes after an intravenous glutathione injection:
How Intravenous Glutathione Has Helped Ivy Over the Years
If you follow Clean Cuisine on Facebook , you might recall Ivy talking about her periodic intravenous glutathione injections over the years. Ever since Dr. Perlmutter introduced her to it over a decade ago, Ivy has always resorted to the injections whenever she feels drained, exhausted or excessively stressed. As mentioned above, even though she hasn’t had a true MS exacerbation in almost twenty years, she has talked and blogged about feeling depleted and exhausted ,in the past, which we think could possibly be MS-related. And although she does not regularly get intravenous glutathione injections (she does supplement though—more on that in a bit), she gets one whenever she is feeling run down. And boy do they work! I don’t think I can recall a time when she got a glutathione injection that she didn’t have a remarkable turnaround that very same day.
Getting an intravenous glutathione injection is best provided at a holistic or functional medicine practice as it involves starting an IV and allowing the antioxidants to drip slowly over about ten minutes. I have tried the injections several times myself and will tell you that I feel a mild “kick” along with an improved sense of well-being and energy within thirty minutes. If you are indeed depleted though (or suffering from increased symptoms of a chronic or autoimmune condition) you will almost surely notice that you have a significant renewed vigor and the symptoms may well decrease due to repletion of this very important antioxidant.
If significant stress has made your chronic condition worse, then glutathione injection should be a real consideration. Unlike Ivy, I don’t have a medical condition that would make me low on glutathione (other than my 45-years of age and rather stressful job) so I don’t notice the same magnitude of benefits of glutathione injection the way Ivy does. But for Ivy, the benefits of a glutathione injection are pretty remarkable. The benefits are especially noticeable in energy and strength. For example, Ivy can normally do 13 to 15 push-ups on any typical given day but after her glutathione injection she can do 20 push-ups for about a week. Unfortunately I don’t notice any strength gains myself though (but again, I don’t have a chronic condition). In addition to the significant boost in energy and strength Ivy also notices she sleeps more soundly and can focus and concentrate much better for a full week after a glutathione injection.
Because as a surgeon I do not provide intravenous therapy in my office I decided, for more context, to ask local internal medicine specialist Dr. Michelle Massa, MD, owner of Advanced Natural Medicine of Jupiter (south Florida), why she uses IV glutathione to help her patients and what type of results she sees. This is what she said, “Even if we do all the right things including eating an organic healthy diet, hydrating, exercising, and practicing mindfulness, along with trying to avoid unnecessary toxins found in skin care products, we are bombarded daily by toxins in our environment which are difficult to avoid or control. This leads to free radical damage to the cells of our body causing early aging, poor immunity, increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic health issues. Using a regimen that includes glutathione can help combat this internal damage caused by free radicals. I recommend boosting glutathione levels by adding foods high in this powerful antioxidant along with supplementing via IV therapy. This will allow your body to function at its best and eradicate free radicals before their damaging effects occur. Some of the testimonies we hear following IV glutathione therapy include improved energy levels, enhanced mental clarity and sharpness, improvement in sleep, and a general sense of well-being. It really is an excellent therapy that should be included in our daily practices of prevention.” This represents a significant endorsement from a physician who sees the benefits to optimizing glutathione levels every day.
How to Avoid Glutathione Depletion
Knowing the benefits of glutathione and knowing your body manufactures this “super antioxidant” on its own, it’s important to know how to avoid glutathione depletion. Here are some of the most important things you can do…
Glutathione is a complex protein synthetized by your body from the amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamate. Cysteine is the limiting factor in this process and the lack of adequate cysteine intake is what prevents some of us from making as much glutathione as we would optimally need. Most of us obtain plenty of glycine and glutamate in our diets so supplementing with the particular amino acid cysteine or with the supplement N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) can boost glutathione levels beyond what can be achieved from the typical diet alone.
Other readily available supplements which increase the body’s ability to make glutathione include:
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
- Curcumin from turmeric****
****Note: We do not recommend supplementation with isolated compounds such as curcumin; instead, choose the “whole” food which in this case would be turmeric. You can get turmeric through supplementation or from the root itself. However, turmeric is not easily absorbed so if you plan to supplement you want to make sure you get a highly bio-available form. This is the turmeric supplement we recommend. If you want to get turmeric directly from the root just be sure to add a little healthy fat and a little black pepper to boost bio-availability. Or try Ivy’s Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Chai Golden Latte Recipe!
Increased protein intake in general can be helpful and older persons should consider increasing intake of high quality proteins if they are mostly eating carbohydrates or not eating much period. Most meats are rich in cysteine and some are rich in sulfur so meats are perfectly fine sources of glutathione substrates but be sure to choose the “cleanest” meat that is otherwise healthful meaning prepared well, lean, and organically sourced.
Eating foods rich in sulfur plays a critical role in helping the body manufacture it’s own glutathione. Ideally you would eat two or three servings of one of the following sulfur-rich plant foods everyday:
- Mustard greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Bok choy
- Sweet potatoes
Supplementing with Glutathione Directly (Oral or Intravenous)
Finally, consider a high quality oral glutathione supplement such as Torry Naturally Clinical Glutathione (this is the one Ivy takes daily, see photo below) or Optimal Liposomal Glutathione in a daily dosage ranging from 250 mg to 1000 mg.
If you want to reap the benefits of glutathione I can’t emphasize the importance of buying a high quality supplement enough. That’s because the bio-availability (absorbability) of glutathione is relatively low. In fact, it is only in the last decade or so that technology has advanced enough to make oral glutathione supplementation an option. Contrary to the beliefs of some these doses of a high quality oral glutathione supplement have been shown to raise blood levels up to 40% if taken on a daily basis even though the bioavailability of oral glutathione is relatively low.
It is very reasonable for persons with chronic disease, poor appetite and poor food intake, autoimmune conditions, and older age to consider supplementing with oral glutathione daily. There does not seem to be much difference in the effect on blood levels in liposomal glutathione as opposed to standard glutathione so focus on the milligram dosage and a trusted brand name more than on other factors.
In conclusion, optimizing glutathione levels is to everyone’s benefit. We handle this primarily through diet and by taking a few key supplements as discussed earlier but in a crisis we will also seek out the help of a holistic practitioner to provide IV supplementation of this powerful antioxidant when needed. We would strongly suggest oral supplementation if you have a chronic condition, autoimmune condition, or suffer from chronic fatigue. There are no downsides to glutathione supplementation when taken orally nor when taken intravenously when provided by a qualified specialist. Here’s to good health and optimum function!–Andy Larson, M.D.